The fairly common native American persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) grows from Connecticut south to Florida and west to Kansas. Scattered throughout woodlands as well as home gardens, these attractive trees provide a brilliant fall display of leaves and orange, hanging fruits. The fruits, which persist after the leaves wilt away, are known for their unpleasantly astringent taste before ripening. Those who have picked a persimmon too early will not soon forget the wooly feeling left in their mouth. Patience is a virtue when it comes to persimmons, providing a soft honeyed treat to those who wait until the fruit becomes mushy (which most say occurs after the first frost).
Until recently, persimmons have largely been available only to those actively seeking these delicious golden fruits. Asian fuyu and hachiya persimmon varieties are now grown around the world and can be easily picked up at your neighborhood grocery store. However, the often maligned native persimmon may be a little harder to find. A traditional regional crop, native persimmons can most easily be found in the fall and early winter at nearby farmers’ markets and at TLC’s Horton Grove Nature Preserve While they may be gone now, next fall I invite you to take a quick stroll to the wildlife viewing platform at Horton Grove. Just past the platform stand two pretty prolific persimmon trees. We sampled these sweet treats on the November 12th birding trip. (But don't wait until next fall to visit Horton Grove – join us Dec 6th for a trail grand opening celebration!)
This “food of the gods” can be eaten fresh, dried or cooked. The smaller native persimmons often provide just enough flesh for a small snack while the store varieties tend to lend themselves to more complex preparations. The time-honored way to devour them is in persimmon pudding, a baked dessert with a custard-like consistency, best served warm. Persimmons, and especially persimmon pudding, have garnered a dedicated following that honor the fruit online, with festivals, in local restaurants, and at home. This relatively easy dish is perfect for the upcoming holidays (or any day) and I hope it finds a place at your table this year.